Monday, March 07, 2005


The academy vs. blogging?

Reader Eric Anderson has an interesting take on the dearth of academic bloggers (see earlier post and his comment here):
Mr Tozier links to a Left2Right post describing emergent intelligence in the human academic ecosystem. (See also Susanne Lohmann's forthcoming book on the American university, How Universities Think, ) Really, blogs only stand to make that ecosystem more efficient with wider, faster distribution, wherein readers more easily find better niche content.

Oooh, that's an interesting thought, and Anderson continues by suggesting that academics not only will not embrace the blogosphere, they will fight it, because it challenges their presumed intellectual authority. Put another way, the suggestion is that academics might fight the blogosphere in the same way and for some of the same reasons the mainstream media has. Silly academic ideas and silly research can not stand the scrutiny of open source fact checking and smell testing any more than Dan Rather or Trent Lott could.

This is an interesting line of reasoning, and I agree that some academics will eschew pajamahadeen (pajamahadean, perhaps?) status for fear of unwanted attention; however, just as some MSM journalists started blogs and otherwise paid attention to the blogosphere, some academicians will embrace the blogosphere and face the relentless scrutiny of an open source world. They, their research, and and the state of knowledge will probably be better off for it.

"[The blogosphere] challenges their presumed intellectual authority."

Indeed. It also challenges their error/cost ratio advantage:

Bloggers open-source fact-check at digital speed. As the blogosphere expands and diversifies, ten self-selected researchers micro-theorizing will tend to produce the same number or fewer errors, at a lower cost (eg time, money, etcetera), than will a single researcher working in isolation.

Diverse, extended social networks enable that ability. Anyone can find interesting memes (ie micro-theories) and run with them: promote, distribute, connect. Again, Mr Tozier:

"The particular tipping point came one afternoon when I showed a long printout of a CA run to an advisor. He said that while this was all very interesting, he not only couldn’t see how it would fit into a research job, but he didn’t know anywhere I could go to learn more about it. It thus became a dead end, interesting as it was.

That was the day I became a molecular biologist. Arguably not the best reaction, under the circumstances. In hindsight I see that this lesson was not a message about specialization vs. generalization. Rather it was about the structure of social networks, inside and outside the academy. But I missed it entirely until recently, alas. Maybe because I wasn’t able to think in terms of social networks and communities of practice. Nobody I knew had ever thought about them."

Emphasis added. In the blogosphere, they find you.

Eric Anderson
an dot anderson at gmail dot com
The problem with challenging academic blogging is that the universe of people capable of doing it is much, much smaller than the universe of people who blog and a great many of the challengers will be university and grad students who can be put under pressure from veiled threats of failing marks if they don't pay "more attention" to their classes and less to their blogging.

Academic blogging critiques will eventually become important but it'll hit critical mass later and always lag behind the larger world blogging developments.
There are more data points showing up:

"Really, blogs only stand to make that ecosystem more efficient with wider, faster distribution, wherein readers more easily find better niche content." This seems to be happening faster than I thought, especially given the RSS uptake. Although, some of the sources shown in that link are simply legacy publishers wrapping their content in new wine skins, not necessarily independent publishers establishing new channels.
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